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Gordon Campbell

Lord Campbell of Croy

The Politician

The Guardian
Courteous Tory Scottish Secretary

Lord Campbell of Croy, who has died aged 83, was secretary of state for Scotland in Edward Heath's administration, from 1970 to 1974. He became Conservative MP for Moray and Nairn in 1959 following an enviable record of public service in war and peace. However, in February 1974, he lost his Commons seat when the Conservative government was defeated: these events ended his political career and subsequently, he went into business.


Campbell came from a Scottish military family. He was born in Lossiemouth.

His father was Major-General JA Campbell DSO, and his mother the novelist Violet Campbell.

After Wellington College, Berkshire, he was poised to take up a history scholarship, but with the second world war imminent, he enlisted at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he held a commission when he was barely 18.


In the early part of the war, he lectured on mathematics and gunnery, later joining the 15th (Scottish) Division and being put in command of 320 field battery. Three days before the ceasefire in Europe, while crossing the Elbe, he received serious bullet injuries which dogged him for the rest of his life. A distinguished soldier - he was awarded the Military Cross and bar - he also knew his share of heartaches, with the death in action of his brother, an air force pilot.


Campbell spent 14 months in hospital, during which time he studied for the Foreign Office entrance examination. He passed before he could walk again, and, in late 1946, joined the FO


Although his disability initially restricted him to London, Campbell played a key role in resolving the future of Trieste. After the war, the outlook for the Istrian peninsula had been deadlocked by conflict between Italy and Yugoslavia. The effectiveness of United States mediation had been impaired by bad relations with Marshal Tito. This gave Britain an opportunity. Campbell patiently negotiated a deal partitioning the territory.


His success could have been the harbinger of a fruitful diplomatic career, but for his severe war wounds. In the event, he worked for the Foreign Office in eastern Europe and at the United Nations, as well as doing a spell as private secretary to Norman Brook, the cabinet secretary. His closing days, in 1956, were spent in Vienna, from where he viewed the consequences of the Hungarian revolution. He was a skilled diplomat, but he felt his prospects would always be limited by his disabilities, and so turned to politics.


He was soon headhunted by Tory grandees looking for a natural Scots frontbencher. Articulate and courteous, he quickly graduated to the frontbench, holding positions in the whip's office (1961-63) before becoming a junior Scottish Office minister.


During his later time as Scottish secretary, the most important measure facing the government was the European Communities Act. Campbell played an underappreciated role in this. He contributed his skill as a diplomat, and his powerful ministrial responsibilities for agriculture and fishing.


Meanwhile, North Sea oil and gas were beginning to impact upon the Scottish economy. By the 1974 general election, there was a paradox. The prospects for oil produced both fear and euphoria. The ambitious programme of exploration platforms was a remarkable engineering achievement, but to many it was an environmental threat.


Many Scots required the speedy development of oil resources; others wanted a policy of Conservative depletion. If oil companies could be rapacious, so could politicians.


As secretary of state, Campbell was also a great road builder. Responding to public opinion, he reconstructed the A9 running north from Edinburgh to Invergordon, bypassing Inverness, a route that halved the travelling time. Associated with this was a plan that the A9 should bridge the firth of Moray, Cromarty and Dornoch.


These traditional means of securing political approval were no longer as potent when oil intruded upon Scottish politics. The February 1974 election demonstrated the new political balance. Heath trailed Labour nationwide by five seats, while the Scottish Nationalists increased their representation from one to seven. Campbell lost his seat, and accepted a life peerage.


In the Lords, he maintained a modest interest in public issues, particularly in consumer affairs and environmental subjects. He vigorously championed the cause of the disabled and, in 1980, became a trustee with the Thomson Foundation, which specialised in training journalists. He had a modest farming and forestry estate, and non-executive interests in the Alliance Building Society and Chevron Oil.


A man with an engaging lack of flamboyance, he had a love of birds and music. His wife, Nicola, whom he married in 1949, survives him, as do two sons and a daughter.


Gordon Thomas Calthrop Campbell, Lord Campbell of Croy, diplomat and politician, born June 8 1921; died April 26 2005

by John Biffen

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